The Tower Journal

Donna L. Emerson

Swimming to the Lighthouse

Off the Maine coast near Stonington.
Out Isle au Haut.
I swam in the sea trying to find you.
You sent no regular beam.
Your lighthouse had occulting light.
No cone of light shone long enough
to show the way.

You’d appear suddenly.
Back from a business trip.
I would hurl my arms around your
knees, thrown rough against you
by the chaos of our house.
Held under water
by mother’s sharp edge, brother
and sister’s arms around my own.

You got me water wings.
Told me I could swim alone. Held my belly while
I tried. Showed me the flutter kick, the way
to cup my closed fingers.
You were the lighthouse, not the light.

You taught the Australian crawl another time
at Lake Isabella. You treaded water
until I took that first dive off the big rock.
You waited, showed me to point
with hands and toes. Didn’t yell at me
or force me to get down.

I waited there, peeking at you from
under my outstretched arms. How long
would you stay this time? If I stood longer
would you stay?

Staunch legs, yours, firmly planted.
Even in deep water. Once I could make
my way to you, your strength held me up.
One Saturday, after our swim, our study
of maps, we ate marinated herring,
made charts for chores,
chose triumphant music by Weber.
Before you left again.
I spent nights imagining
swimming in saltwater.


If you walk in new-fallen snow,
tolerate twenty-degree air,
warm enough to see and hear
a soft whisking, like wing sounds
of small birds,

clouds of snow will suddenly
blow from branches, up and around,
sometimes into a funnel,
like whirling
dust in the desert.

Three seconds
and you can’t capture the sweep
with a camera unless you
have one clicking all the time.

You can’t fully see it
when your eye must press
or peer into a viewfinder.

You miss half of it, so it’s best to watch
snow blown off pine or spruce
with your open eyes.

If you’re lucky, you get to walk
right into it, often caught off guard,
swept up.


Snowflakes are only part of the story.
Snowstorm doesn’t describe falling snow.
What you must know is that snow falls—
silently. The space between snowflakes
large at first. You see each flake ambling
down. Then they fall faster.
You can’t hear them.

Snowflakes sleet faces,
Awaken our eyes, frost ears.
Open mouth, cold
on warm tongues.

Observe the roof of the Amish birdhouse,
dusted. Then covered with a smattering.
Five inches by morning.

The Norway spruce wear ermine capes.
Bottom branches sink into snowdrifts.
The maple trees thicken with snow
at their centers.

Last summer’s bird’s nest high in the oak
holds a ball of snow.

Within hours, all is covered, hidden
under white. Cars swooped with snow,
bushes snow-thick.
Every shape greets us—
new, soft, still.


I conduct our relationship
Entirely by myself.
First meeting. What could be.
Why isn’t it working. Why
It can never be.

An arc from Keats,
A kind of consumption.

You breeze in at different moments,
Announce you loved me, still do,
Then glide away.

A skater on the pond’s surface.
Expert at figure-eights, backwards.
While I lean up on my toe tips, gain
Traction, try to follow,

You are swift, know where the island
Lies, near Washington’s Crossing. Where
You can skate alone.
No words allowed.

Copyright © 2014 Donna L. Emerson

DonnaL.  EmersonDonna divides her time between her Petaluma, California home and her family homestead in western New York. She is an instructor at Santa Rosa Jr. College. Donna’s recent publications include the New Ohio Review, Persimmon Tree, Eclipse, and Sanskrit, among many others.

She has just published her fourth chapbook, Following Hay( Finishing Line Press).

The Tower Journal
Spring/Summer 2014